Its fire-breathing head and jaunty curved tail have been removed and reverently laid to rest; the long, pink, wooden boat has been hauled from the waters of Nanoose Bay for the last time this year and carefully stored until its next spring awakening.
The dragon boat’s paddlers will forsake the waters for the next few months, too, but they will not be resting. Over the winter, the dragon boat team, “Abreast of Life,” will gather regularly for strenuous stretching and exercises to keep their bodies strong, limber and ready for the next season’s paddling and competitions.
It was a good year for “Abreast of Life”, the Central Vancouver Island Dragon Boat Team. In June at Sproat Lake each team member walked away with a 3rdplace ribbon in the Ladies Regatta, later that summer the team posed in Comox with the coveted silver cup, and on September 24th they again collected ribbons — second place in the competition’s Silver Division.
The West Coast Dragon Boat Society’s Sunday festival at Sproat Lake on the 24th was the perfect season’s closing, with calm water, clear skies, and hot sun to warm the hearts of paddlers and onlookers alike. The Kiwanis “kitchen/bus” sold hotdogs, hamburgers, fries, and pop — what more could one ask to help celebrate summer’s end and support the efforts and camaraderie of the paddlers.
Eighteen teams had pitched their shelter tents above the beach that day, and spectators had lined up their chairs behind the marshalling area. I knew I was late in arriving when I heard the stirring “boom, boom” of dragon boat drums carrying over the water. An important part of each team is the drummer who sits in the bow, facing his or her paddlers and sets the pace for their strokes with vehement beats on the big drum she/he straddles on his perch.
At the dragon boat’s stern, stands another critical team member — the steers-person. Legs braced to stay balanced (and aboard!) in the moving boat, she guides the craft with a long sweep or “rudder” and is responsible for avoiding collisions, keeping the boat in its lane, and giving it the best chance of getting its dragon’s breath first across the finish line.
Between these two — the drummer and the steers-person, are the guts and motive power of a dragon boat — 20 paddlers in two rows of 10, wielding paddles in unison to move a 1,500-pound-plus, 40-foot boat. That’s a lot of inertia to overcome from a standing start and then get the boat up on its plane to move it along with the least possible friction with the water.
Dragon boaters are equal to this. “The Abreast of Life” team, and all other like teams are especially proud of their efforts, and rightly so. The team members are breast cancer survivors and they know what it means to fight; they’ve fought and continue to fight their bodies’ enemy and when they come together to race, they exchange fight for effort and expertise. Win or lose a race, they raise their paddles in a salute to everyone’s team and personal best.
“Abreast of Life” makes other efforts, too. Early in September they organized a first and most successful fundraising golf tournament at Arrowsmith Golf and Country Club. The day was fine, the elaborate decorations proved their ever present sense of humor, and they were able to donate a new chemotherapy chair to NRGH.
The history of dragon boat racing is ancient with its roots in China; dragon boating for breast cancer survivors started in the mid 90’s following the theory and testing by a UBC sports medicine doctor, Dr. Don McKenzie, who was convinced that upper body exercise was good for survivors of surgery, chemo, and radiation.
When those Sunday races were over, many of the exuberant paddlers ran down the beach to dive into the lake for a swim. There is an old belief that waters in which dragon boats have cruised are blessed. Whatever they think of the water, members of “Abreast of Life” know that life is precious and “Live, Laugh, Love” is the way to go.
For more information about the “Abreast of Life” team or if you’re considering paddling, contact Jean Sanderson at 250 586 6634; Lynda Guerin at 250 390 3183; or check the team’s; website: www.abreastoflifecvi.com.
Nancy Whelan is a regular News